five – oh – oh

This is the 500th post of the project why blog. By curiosity I went back to blog number one and read it. What a long way one has come since that day when with faltering fingers I wrote the first blog and entered uncharted courses not knowing where they would lead me.

Yes it has been a long journey and a thrilling one at that. From the almost childlike account of day one with its spelling mistakes (had not discovered the spellcheck I guess) to the sometimes acerbic posts one has truly travelled; from moments of pure unadulterated joy to those of extreme sadness, this blog has been a true reflection of a personal journey.

So just like on day, the best subject for this milestone blog would be to just talk about today..

After the thrill of success (results of the Board exams) the morning was spent planning a befitting celebration. many ideas were mooted and finally it was decided to take the successful kids to a movie! A friend dropped by and was introduced to our two brand new teachers: Azad and PK both of whom had just cleared their XIIth. While Azad went off after a brief hell, PK stayed to discuss the idea of a play on environment. The friend asked him about his interests and soon his life story came tumbling leaving us all stunned.

PK is the eldest of 4 siblings, all boys. One of his brother is practically blind after a cerebral accident and another severely epileptic. His father, a tailor, lost his job and works from home. Since he was in class VI, PK has worked to finance his studies. He told us about how he was employed in a factory where geysers were made and how he had got electrocuted while testing a geyser. He then took on odd jobs and slowly stared learning tailoring from his dad and helping him with orders at night. He went on to share his dream of further studies that he was determined to finance himself. As he spoke in his quiet and yet assertive voice, my heart went out to him as to me he epitomised the dreams of so many children of India, the difference being that he had had the courage to fulfill them while others just let the slip away. I made a mental note of seeing how we could help sponsor his further education.

The rest of the day passed without much ado. In the evening I went to the Gauri Shankar temple in Chandni Chowk. As we were about to leave, we saw a huge commotion with some TV crew and host of cycle rickshaws. We were told that the crew was interviewing cycle rickshaw owners as these were soon to be banned with the coming of battery operate buses! I looked as the bedraggled men, some old, some young with their defeated expressions and wondered why once again the poor were being sacrificed. How many hoes would go hungry and how many dreams would be shattered. First it was street food, now cycle rickshaws. There has to be a better way of modernising and cleaning the city. Cycle rickshaws are environment friendly and one can find a way of having them ply in an organised manner, just has one has to have a way of providing clean street food. And what about the garbage, the plastic, the potholes, and the multitude of things that scar our city and never seem to be dealt with. Why is it always the poor voiceless person that is made the victim. Questions that need answers but who will bell the cat.

Yes it was just another day at project why. Wonder where we all will be at 1000th blog!

a few of my favourite things

Last week a TV crew came to project why. They spent two days capturing the shots they wanted and driving us literally up the wall. When it was over, the producer handed me a form tat he said needed to be filled. It began like all data sheets with queries about name, dob etc.. but then were a host of questions asking for one’s favourite things.

At age 55+ it seems a little inane to have to answer favourite actor, food, actress, movie colour, dress and God knows what else, so I simply followed the lead of my excited young colleagues. True there was a time when I did have a list of favourite things, but stilettos gave way to floaters as style was sacrifices at the alter of comfort! However one question caught my eye: what is your favourite book?

This one was for me, my true turf, as books had been my friends, solace, companions and mentors right from my early days. At first glance, it seemed an easy question as was I not the ones who lived and breathed books. I still remember how deeply moved I had been by Francois Truffaut’s stunning film Fahrenheit 451 where the possibility of a world without books entered by adolescent mind.

So the question what is your favourite book was one I had to answer myself. easier said than done as I sat pencil in hand trying to recall the innumerable number of books that I had read over the years and finding the one that could truly deserve the attribute of favourite!

My mind rapidly scanned the books I had always professed liking, but each somehow fell short of something. They seemed more to have been in tune with a particular moment of my existence but paled beyond that reality. What I sought was the book that had withstood the vagaries of a lifetime; the one that gave the same intense pleasure each time one opened it; the one that always had the ability to answer the query of the moment no matter what it could be; the one that could soothe frayed nerves and make you believe that life was worth living even in your darkest hour; the one that had never left your bookshelf!

My mind travelled back and forth as many titles came to mind, but only one could answer all the aforesaid questions as well as those not yet formulated as yes there was such a book in my life: The Little Prince by Antoine de St Exupery, a book that had entered my life when I was twelve and that still sits comfortably on my bookshelf.

To many and by the looks of it, The little Prince is a children’s book, and I must confess that when I first read it, it did not quite compete with the adventure books that were hot favourites of mine. But I found myself attracted to it in an almost intuitive way and as years passed I often picked up and read bits of it at times when I was confused, sad or lonely.

The Little Prince is a mesmerising book as it seems to address to each one of us and any given time in our lives. It is a quaint philosophical fable written way back in the 1940’s but one that retains its freshness as we meet its diverse protagonists: the businessman counting useless stars, or tippler who drinks because he is ashamed of his drinking.

And as you get lost in this world you realise the futility of many things your held as important and the importance of those you overlooked. You are gently taught of the danger of losing your ability to question what you cannot comprehend or what you find absurd. And gently you are led to the one secret that holds true in life and extols you to learn to look with you heart.

In hindsight I now see how deeply this tiny book has helped me and guided me in life and deserves to be my favourite book!

happy b’day girl

happy b’day girl

When she came to us a few months back we did not know whether she would make it. her tiny and frail body, her almost cerulean hue, her huge sparkling eyes made a quaint and disturbing picture.

Her near brush with death made scared us no end, but soon miracles occurred as she had her much needed surgery. And suddenly her zest for life took over as she rushed to make up for lost months: a new tooth, a bigger smile, a few ounces here and there and new antics each time she came by.

This morning she arrived again clutching a box of sweet. It was her first birthday, one she almost missed!

happy b’day girl!

.. better than all the rest

You’ re simply the best we sang with as much energy as Tina Turner as the 12 girls of our class XII batch cleared their Boards with panache. Yes this year the project why class XII was an all girls batch. A matter of pride for us but also a true reflection of an existing social reality. parents spend more on boys and hence most are given private tuition. The girls are just sent to project why!

Today we can see the next line of the song – better than all the rest – as the X Boards results are out and once again our 11 boys and 11 girls have passed too!

I have now words to express what I feel though this day as dawned 7 times for us. Yet each time I feel as overwhelmed and somehow a tad sad as there are many children who have the ability but lack the tiny little bit of help they need.

I just wish we could do more…

the length of a lifetime

The story of little M should send chills down every self respecting human being’s spine. The question remains: Does it? Or have we become so inured to crime against children, particularly small children, that we turn our hearts away.

Can any society that calls itself civilised allow such incidents to happen, let alone happen with license, particularly when the child in question is poor. And if they do happen can one allow the perpetrators to roam scot-free as we lose ourselves in legal imbroglios.

M or the Nithari children or even the Ghaziabad girls were one may say exceptions, but child abuse if often much more insidious. There has been lot of talk of child abuse in recent days. A recent study shows some chilling facts as to the extent of this crime that seems to be mostly perpetrated within the supposedly safe boundaries of the home.

Child abuse is by far the most heinous crime and one of the reasons why it is practised with impunity is because in most cases no one is ready to believe the child who has the courage to break the tacit code of silence. Instead of sharing the pain and alleviating it, adults are quick to rap the child on the knuckles and push her or him back to realm of the very silence she or he dared break, and thus to the hell of more abuse.

The reason for the post is two fold. One stems out of a recent incident at project why when a child shared a personal experience. The experience was difficult to word and as always with children it came out in a garbled whisper. Thankfully the teacher she shared it was sensitive and understanding and decided to come to me for advise. We soon learnt of the abuse this child had been subjected to and were glad she had broken the deafening silence she had lived in all those years. The first step towards healing had been taken.

But, and that is the second reason for this post, this is rarely the case as children rarely find a sympathetic ear when they decide to come out with the truth. A ten year old had been subjected to inappropriate fondling by someone she held in trust. The child had the courage to inform her mother hoping that at least she would believe her and act. But in spite of education and well worldliness the mother adopted the cowardly middle path and though the child was never abused again she had to live with her perpetrator for many long years.

That is the problem with child abuse as it is mostly committed by someone within the family, and often someone with authority. Breaking the silence means destroying the social balance and shattering the comfortable life one leads. It means taking sides and standing up for the child against all. It means risking to lose everything one has and somehow society has rarely stood for the victim. The hesitant and hurting child is often silenced or at best provided some half-baked protection and made to continue living under the same roof as the abuser.

Something is terribly wrong: a little child who has been abused and hurt has to pick rags for a living when what she needs is healing and love, another child is made to live long years within the same walls as her abuser because the social balance cannot be disturbed.

And even when perpetrators are caught then justice is elusive. Who knows where the Ghaziabad girls are or whether the Nithari children will really get justice, or whether little M’s abuser will pay for his heinous crime. And these are just the few cases that got reported but every day there are children who are being abused and who need to be heard.

It is for us as a society to take up the cudgels and fight this crime. What is terrible is that it is often the victim and her family who are ostracized by the very society they live in. C is 14 year old and she is a student of project why. Just like M she was raped by a neighbour at the age of 4 and suffered severe injuries that needed corrective surgery. Her abuser did some time in jail and is now free but young C still bears the stigma of that rape and is shunned by all.

Yes something is terribly wrong and we cannot look away because in the words of Herbert Ward child abuse casts a shadow the length of a life time